Ben Kweller has grown up on record. At age fifteen, when most of us are in high school trying to stand out or to avoid detection, Kweller was signing record deals and touring with his band Radish. By nineteen, he graduated to releasing solo material and continuing his public growth and maturation. Now at twenty-five and on his fourth solo effort, it is fair to expect the boy has become a man. We can put the “teenage prodigy” or “former teenage prodigy” tags to rest: With Ben Kweller, the boyish charm is gone, replaced by wistful longings and reflections.
Ben Kweller tackles subjects of confusion, awkward romantics, desire, and escapism, but it does so with a startling lack of depth. Lyrically, Kweller makes a lot of generalizations, not specific poignant statements. He does not draft characters involved in stories; he does not use elaborate poetics. He simply makes level statements that are easy to relate to but are not stimulating. He reminds me of someone who has listened to all the right albums and read all the right books but has not lived the experiences that shaped his heroes’ works. And you can’t enlighten without the wisdom.
Musically, the sound borrows primarily from mid- to late-’60s pop. There are traces of Beatles, Beach Boys, and Zombies all over the mid-tempo numbers. “I Don’t Know Why” and “I Gotta Move” are insistent power pop songs featuring nice multi-tracked harmony vocals. “Nothing Happening” and “Red Eye” evoke memories of the Band with their loose structure and flourishes of slide guitar, organ and piano. The album’s two best moments are “Thirteen” and “Magic.” On “Thirteen,” Kweller gets vulnerable, reminiscing about the small, profound and sometimes embarrassing moments of a lost but treasured love. “Magic” is the most distinct piece of pop music here. Kweller is able to twist his vocals around a simple but evolving guitar riff through verse, chorus and a bridge complete with an excellent display of handclaps.
Kweller is a pleasant musician with a charming voice. He writes agreeable music that never shocks nor satisfies. I’m not sure if anything here would compel a listener to come back for more: lyrically, the emotions Kweller attempts to extrapolate fall flat, and the album’s music is too derivative to separate itself. It seems to me that this album has already been made countless times by countless bands.
Label: http://www.atorecords.com/Audio: http://www.myspace.com/benkweller